Manuel cracks the semis at Margie’s for year’s best result

Coming off a disappointing result at Bells Beach, Malia Manuel put that throwaway score behind her and got her first semifinal appearance of the season during Tuesday’s finals day action at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro in Western Australia. It was a dramatic day for Manuel, who made the semis in three of her final six contests of 2014, but needed a good result to move back toward the top of the 2015 rankings.

The winds were a bit fierce but the swell was pumping some bombs through the lineup for the wahine, who got the waves all to themselves as the men took a lay day before they get into the semifinals. Both of Kauai’s tour regulars – Manuel and Tatiana Weston-Webb – got to participate in the prime conditions as each reached the quarterfinals at Margie’s.

Manuel had reached the quarters by winning her third-round heat in unusual fashion. In a non-elimination round that usually features three surfers, Manuel essentially had a head-to-head heat with Silvana Lima after Stephanie Gilmore had to pull out of the event with injury. Manuel managed to hold off the Brazilian charger to set up a matchup with Bianca Buitendag in the final eight.

The pair surfed a very close heat that came down to the wire. With less than two minutes remaining, Manuel was behind, needing a 7.70 to move in front. She took off on a big wave and started by smashing a carve before taking a high line that didn’t add much, but her finishing float was huge and she stuck it with style. She threw her arms up high after the landing and certainly felt she had done all she could. The judges agreed and awarded an 8.50 to give Manuel the lead.

Buitendag countered with a solid wave of her own, but it only slightly improved her position and Manuel held on for the victory. That matched her up with Courtney Conlogue, a two-time winner at Margaret River.

It quickly seemed like the heat may be one-sided when Conlogue took off on her first wave and snapped a pair of huge turns before stalling into a barrel and coming out like Superman, flying high into the air on her exit. That brought in a 9.00 to open her account and she backed it up with a 7.00 on her next ride to have Manuel in an early combination.

But the Wailua native fought to make things interesting and posted an 8.77 to break the combo, keeping herself in position to make her first final since the 2012 Beachley Classic. Conlogue continued to apply the pressure and bettered her situation, forcing Manuel to need something special in the closing moments. She would have to duplicate her top score of an 8.77 to pull ahead and her final wave was ridden beautifully, but Manuel came up just short of that requirement. Conlogue moved on with an entertaining 17.53 to 15.87 victory.

The Equal Third result for Manuel should successfully knock her second-round loss at Bells out of her consciousness. Starting the year with an Equal Fifth on the Gold Coast gives her two strong finishes in the first three contests and will propel her back towards contention, though the top of the rankings has been dominated by one woman.

Oahu’s Carissa Moore, who has already won the year’s first two contests, reached the final at Margaret River with a victory over Sally Fitzgibbons in the semifinals. Moore is eyeing her third straight victory at Margie’s but Conlogue has also won multiple times at this spot.

Results of their final heat were unavailable as of press time.

Weston-Webb reached the quarters for the second time this season, but she had to deal with top-seeded Moore in that spot. The veteran showed why she’s on such a heater and controlled most of the heat, emerging with a 17.37 to 9.07 win.

Tati adds an Equal Fifth result to her year’s total, which will keep her in roughly the same position, having come to Western Australia tied for sixth place.

The men’s event has just four surfers remaining as John John Florence will take on Nat Young in one semifinal and Taj Burrow faces Adriano de Souza in the other. Florence can get back toward the top of the standings with a victory after a slow start to his season, but de Souza will be the year’s points leader heading to the next contest, no matter what happens from here on out.

Sebastian Zietz lost to Michel Bourez in the fifth round but his Equal Ninth result will be his best on the season so far.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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